The Power of a Woman
The familiar saying “Behind every great man is an even greater woman” can certainly hold true in many cases. A woman may very well be the driving force behind any successful man. However, a woman can also use her strong influence in a negative way. This can be seen in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth is the evil force behind Macbeth’s cruelty and evil doings. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is the main reason that Macbeth is transformed from a noble, respected Thane into a ruthless, murderous character. Lady Macbeth fuels his inner desire for power and brings forth his greed and ambition, which both eventually lead to his downfall. The tactics that Lady Macbeth use to drive her husband to this downfall are manipulation, dominance, and her evil nature.
Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth into believing that he is a coward and a bad husband, which persuades him to agree to the murder of King Duncan. She dwells on the fact that he is a coward, when she says “My hands are of your colour, but I shame/ to wear a heart so white” (2.2.64-65). This instills feelings of embarrassment into his mind, and manipulates him into believing that if he does not murder King Duncan, he will be a weak, cowardly man. Not only is she challenging his manhood, by appearing to be the stronger and braver of the two, but also, by calling his heart “white”, she is criticizing his cowardice. The fact that his wife is undermining his masculinity causes Macbeth to want to be stronger, and not to appear weak and timid. When Lady Macbeth yells “Infirm of
purpose! Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead/ are but as pictures. ‘Tis the eye of childhood/ that fears a painted devil” (2.2.53-55), she further contributes to the shame which she has driven into Macbeth’s mind. She bluntly tells him that he is acting like a weak, nervous child, and insults him for being afraid of something that is already dead! This shame encourages Macbeth to want to consent to his wife’s plan. Another method which Lady Macbeth uses to manipulate her husband’s mind is by making him feel guilty for being a bad husband, who breaks his promises: “What beast was’t then/ that made you break this enterprise to me?” (1.7.47-48). She knows that by saying this, he will feel remorse for breaking a promise to his wife whom he loves so much. She is taking advantage of the love he has for her, and using it against him to create feelings of guilt. Lady Macbeth cleverly uses manipulative schemes in order to persuade Macbeth into agreeing to her plan.
A very domineering woman as well, Lady Macbeth takes control of Macbeth’s words, thoughts, and actions. She loves being in charge, and is extremely forceful in her commands to her husband. This is emphasized when she instructs Macbeth to “Only look up clear./ To alter favor ever is to fear./ Leave all the rest to her” (1.5.67-69). The fact that she is telling her husband how to act and what to say proves that she is the one in charge, and holds the majority of the power in their relationship. Her instruction to leave everything up to her shows that Lady Macbeth is very power-hungry. Further evidence of her dominance over Macbeth is found in her command to “Look like the innocent flower/ but be the serpent under’t” (1.5.60-61). Again, this is Lady Macbeth giving him orders on how to act. Macbeth follows these orders, therefore putting himself under her control.
This makes it easy for her to get her way, which is exactly what she desires. In addition to this desire to control Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s dominance is illustrated through her anger at Macbeth when he questions her authority. When Macbeth tells her that he thinks her plan may fail, she furiously says “We fail!/ But screw your courage to the sticking place/ and we’ll not fail” (1.7.59-61). She is appalled at his lack of faith in her plan. This exemplifies her forceful and controlling personality. Furthermore, in keeping with her manipulative character, Lady Macbeth also manages to incorporate an insult into her assurance that the plan will work: she reminds Macbeth that he lacks courage (“screw your courage to the sticking place”). These situations, in which Lady Macbeth exerts dominance over Macbeth, confirm that she uses control as a means of transforming her husband into a murderer.
Lady Macbeth has a very cruel-hearted and evil nature, and she feels no guilt for her wrong doings. Without these characteristics, she would not be able to assist her husband into becoming the treacherous murderer that he does. Firstly, Lady Macbeth has no conscience and has no feelings of regret for her cruel actions: “These deeds must not be thought of/ after these ways. So, it will make us mad” (2.2.33-34). This demonstrates that she does not care about the murder that she and Macbeth have just committed, and she wants to forget all about it, to avoid upsetting or worrying Macbeth unneccessarily. It is obvious that she is extremely cold-hearted to be able to commit murder without a second thought! Another example of her evilness is the fact that she has a desire for cruelty; she wants to be even more evil than she already is: “Come, you spirits/ that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ and fill me, from the crown to the toe, topfull/ of
direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,/ stop up the access and passage to remorse” (1.5.35-39). Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits to bring her more strength and more masculine characteristics, to enable her to become the most evil person she can be. When she asks them to fill her “from the crown to the toe, topfull of direst cruelty” it shows that she longs to be strong and cruel, and capable of committing crimes without feeling remorse. Lady Macbeth’s evil nature enables her to have a negative and cruel influence on Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth into becoming a murderer by manipulating his mind into believing that he is a coward and a bad husband. She also convinces him into this deed by exerting force and control over him. Her cruel and evil nature is another trait that enables her to transform Macbeth into a horrible murderer. Lady Macbeth is greatly responsible for the downfall of her husband in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She proves that a woman can have an enormous influence on a man. The power of a woman should never be disregarded, for her effect on man is a great one.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Adventures in English Literature. Ed. Katie Vignery.
Austin: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1996. 178-249.
The Power of a Woman